The Israeli film “My Father My Lord” packs a wallop far out of proportion to its running time (brief), its pace (poetically slow), and the events it depicts (minor, for the most part). Out of the slenderest of materials, writer-director David Volach has created a drama that, in retrospect, feels positively biblical.
Not surprisingly, the father of the title is named Abraham (Assi Dayan), and one of the first things we hear on the soundtrack is the story of the sacrifice of Isaac. Far from an Old Testament thunderer, Rabbi Abraham is a profoundly compassionate man who looks upon his small family with reverence and love. Leader of his ultra-Orthodox community in a rundown Tel Aviv neighborhood, he dispenses thoughtful Torah commentary to his flock and tenderness to his wife, Esther (Sharon Hacohen-Bar), and young son, Menahem (Ilan Griff).
“My Father My Lord” views this hermetic world through the eyes of the boy, who’s still young enough to wonder at everything he sees. Volach and cinematographer Boaz Yehonatan Yaacov create a child’s glowing garden of miracles among the aging buildings and ranks of worshippers.
The film’s point, quietly but insistently embedded into the narrative, is that Menahem is as yet too young to judge where his father’s faith comes into conflict with this natural world. Through tiny revelations, we come to understand that the devotion that sustains the Rabbi also blinds him. His dictum that animals have no souls stands in contrast to the whimpering dog Menahem sees jumping into an ambulance to lie next to its stricken owner; the Torah’s commandment to “send the mother bird from her children” forces the Rabbi to shoo a dove from her nest, dooming her chicks.
The filmmaker was raised in a Hasidic community and left in his 20s; “My Father My Lord” is thus an act of unstinting criticism leavened by understanding and love.